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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Kaahumanu

b. circa 1772, Maui, Hawaii; d. 1832, Honolulu

After the death of her husband, King Kamehameha I, in 1819, Ka’ahumanu shared the governance of Hawaii with his successor, Liholiho. She instituted many reforms, most importantly, the abolition of the kapu system. The social organization of the Hawaiian people was rigid and stratified; the system was enforced through kapus, taboos which constrained, in particular, the behavior of commoners and women. Violating a kapu, it was believed, would result in death inflicted by the gods. Ka’ahumanu’s successful campaign against traditional religion was accompanied by support of Christian missionaries, who began arriving on the islands in 1820.